By Dan Moffett
    
    Unable to find help from larger governments or a financing plan that suits them, Manalapan commissioners have decided to pay for their Audubon Causeway Bridge project the old-fashioned way.
    They will raise taxes.
    The Town Commission gave unanimous approval to a $0.25 increase in Manalapan property owners’ tax rate on July 22, raising the town’s operating rate to $3.15, meaning for every $100,000 in assessed value, a homeowner will pay about $315.
    The good news for property owners is that even with the increase, Manalapan still has the lowest tax rate in Palm Beach County.
    “I think it’s important that we still have the lowest rate in the county,” said Mayor David Cheifetz.
    The new revenue will go toward the $501,000 needed to begin the Audubon bridge project. The town will still have to take about $68,000 out of its reserves to cover the construction cost. But, commissioners said, they supported the balanced approach of paying for the work with a modest tax increase and a small amount from the town’s savings account, which is roughly $1.8 million.
    Commissioner Peter Isaac reported that the bridge project is moving forward “basically on schedule, with no change in cost.” In total, the new bridge will cost about $760,000, which includes replacing a water main.
    Isaac said designers have approved a “clear span” design that will use a continuous section to link both ends of the bridge. The design will require fewer pilings, which should help reduce the cost and construction time — perhaps by as much as two weeks.
However, a clear span design will limit the options for architectural details, the engineers say.
    The project is scheduled to get underway in April, with construction of the south side span expected to last about three months. After completion of the south side, traffic can move across without any weight restrictions, Isaac said.
    Commissioners are expecting the entire project to take about eight months, putting the finish date in December 2015.
    Overall, the proposed operating budget of $3.35 million for 2014-15 is about $60,000 higher (1.9 percent) than that of the current year.
    Commissioners decided against spending $28,000 to replace the town’s 9-year-old generator, opting instead to set aside $12,000 to see if it could be repaired.
    The commission is going forward with a $20,000 plan to replace the 11-year-old telephone system at Town Hall. The figure includes money to upgrade the conference communication system in the hall chambers.
    Town employees will get a 2.1 percent raise to cover the cost of inflation, and commissioners have set aside another 0.9 percent for merit raises.
    “Everyone will get cost-of-living,” Cheifetz told Town Manager Linda Stumpf, “but we’re giving you discretion to reward those employees whose performance is good.”
    The commission scheduled public hearings for the proposed budget for 5 p.m. Sept. 17 and Sept. 23.

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